The core memes of the Christian gospel emerge from the story of Jesus.  As early Christians contemplated Jesus they, of course, drew implications for life, community, and spirituality.  But, they also grappled with the meaning of Jesus for life, the universe, and everything.  They speculated that the Jesus story was singular but also universal.  His life (birth, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection) was experienced as 33 years in space time.  But his life was also understood to occur in the presence of God orthogonal to space-time.  This orthogonal singularity is understood to be immediately proximate, immediately embedded in every moment/location in space-time.   In a particular way, this singularity is present in every heart across all generations, tribes and nations, past, present and future.  This omni-temporal, omni-present, omni-humanic reality describes the spirit meme.  The spirit is Christ present.  The spirit is breath itself:  life, beauty (glory), and love.  The singularity is universal.

The incarnation meme seeks to provide a solution for the problem of God.  Any god worthy of  the name is transcendent.  In transcendence, god is unknowable, indescribable.  We are left only with agnosticism — an analogical feeling that there must have been a creator, but we can have no knowledge or even awareness of such.  Yet our experience of life is full of the mystery of transcendence.  As we live, create, and love, we are awed by something to which we give the name, god.  This god is immanent:  present in everything, known in everything. The pantheist simply says that god is everything, emergent from the processes of the universe.  Yet despite our growing knowledge of the scope of the universe, there is something fundamentally limited and  un-godlike in pantheist memes.  The incarnation meme invokes a way out of this.  It describes a singularity in which union is established, in which the transcendent God becomes immanent.   It suggests that the universe is only the universe by incarnation, by Christ.  It is the incarnate, resurrected one who creates, sustains, redeems and is known in every moment of space-time (Hebrews 1:2).

The suffering and resurrection memes are tightly paired.  The suffering of Jesus provides a context and initiates a conversation for addressing the problem of evil.  While it does not address the origins of evil, it fully acknowledges the evil incumbent in all life and in all living.  It posits death as the expression and consequence of evil.  The resurrection meme then proposes a solution to this problem.  In Christ there is a life, a new creation in which evil has no place and death has lost its sting.  In this view, life, beauty and love have a meaning, a validity, an expression, a continuity, a realization that explodes our current frame and perspective.  The problem of evil is fundamental to our contemplation of the meaning of life and existence.  Some suggest that there is no evil, simply a consequence of entropy.  For others, it is simply an implication of the struggle for survival.  The gospel memes of suffering and resurrection suggest that there is a solution for evil, and that death is not the end of life, love and beauty, while not making light in any sense of the existential reality of evil and suffering.

It is in the “In Christ” meme that the gospel impacts our own sense of place and meaning.  Incarnation suggests that the spirit makes Jesus immanent to every moment of my existential experience of life, beauty and love.  I walk through my own encounter with evil and suffering, internal and external, with Jesus.  I find new life in the resurrection.  Union with Christ and its closely linked memes of the spirit, are at the heart of existential Christian belief and life. The gospel is not a game at which a select few are invited to play, and effective optimization (following and not following of rules) results in even fewer winners.  Rather, the spirit/Jesus is intimately present and engaged with each one of us in each moment and story of our lives.  Our story takes place in, around, and through Jesus’ story.

In future posts we will revisit these memes repeatedly.  Here we simply try to provide an overview that will serve to ground other discussions.  In the previous post we discussed a pervasive sense of wisdom.  It becomes evident that the memes of incarnation, suffering and resurrection are foundational to our search for wisdom.  To rephrase a proverb, the seeking of gospel is the beginning of wisdom.  These memes will also become the context for our next post on the crisis of unbelief, where we will discuss how seeking occurs in the tension between belief and unbelief.

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14 Responses to Mysteries: Incarnation, suffering, resurrection and union with Christ.

  1. [...] ones are needed. I’m sure many of you can relate.Kress’s begins to explore these new memes here, stating that,The core memes of the Christian gospel emerge from the story of Jesus.  As [...]

  2. Jeff Martin says:

    A good way to spread these memes is to first stop using language with words like “meme” and “singularity”.

    Secondly I heartily recommend Terence Fretheim’s book “Creation Untamed” as a great example of how the gospel fits into life, especially the sad bits

    • Peter Kress says:

      I appreciate the caution.

      My use of both terms is intentional. The language is current if not commonplace. By using “meme” I am intending to root theological beliefs, ideas and explanations firmly as cultural phenomena, existing, persisting and evolving through generations and contexts. I am resisting the linkage of wisdom to truth propositions. I will be discussing singularity concepts more in the future. But, a hint … I believe that God acts once and always (and that these are connected), but, not sometimes. I hope that the idea of singularity captures this.

      Are there other terms you think I should be considering?

      • Jeff Martin says:

        Peter,

        Thanks for responding. I have always felt that the longer the definition the more unwieldy and unhelpful the term becomes. I would say it could be better expresses with more than one word. Our tendency is to boil things down to a word – itself a meme (just turn on any news show). Imagine if you took spaghetti and meatballs and put it in a blender and served it like that! I would rather have mine separate thank you.

        I like the term “cultural contagion” better.

        “Singularity” works for Star Trek fans, but this term is capable of multiple definitions. It can mean “unique”, which itself is a better word to use, or it has other meanings. A writer from “Wired” magazine, Kevin Kelly, uses it this way – “Singularity is the point at which “all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change in the next five minutes.”

        Also you really threw me with the term “orthogonal singularity”. Another rule I have is that if you are going to use more than one word to describe a complicated idea, then have at least one of the words be a very commonplace term.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there was even “cooler” words out there that not many use to descrube this in better detail but I still do not think it is helpful.

        Also this essay seems to want to use “incarnation”, “suffering” and “resurrection” as memes and singularities, which gets confusing. With all the singularities one has in their repertoire the word singularity loses its punch. If all this ends up meaning is that God is consistent in his dealings with us then “consistency” would be a better word.

        With the hint that you give

        • Peter Kress says:

          Only one singularity –Jesus. Incarnation, suffering, and resurrection are facets of that singularity.

          Consistent is definitely not what I am getting at. I will be doing a post on incarnation and Universe where I will try again. Thanks.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    I just want to encourages your efforts.

    Some see Torah/Scripture as unchanging, but it itself teaches that it changes with change in circumstances. I knew this a little bit, but just now and seeing it in a larger way. My point is what you are attempting has very legitimate roots in the Bible itself.

  4. Gregory says:

    I’m not sure if it is encouraging or sickening to see this use of ‘meme’ – a term of the great non-Christian R. Dawkins’ coinage – at gospelfutures.org. Dawkins had no business making a theory of ‘cultural replicators’ (made to rhyme with ‘gene’) when his background naturalistic education gave him no preparation to do this. To trust Dawkins’ claimed brilliance in ethology and biological sciences with the subsequent ability to make a coherent cultural theory like memetics is highly problematic, even wishful thinking.

    Encouraging: the attempt to engage natural science and theology in a non-warfare model. To say ‘O.k. if natural scientists are doing it, so can we.’ Bravo for the attempt!

    But have you not read the vast criticisms of ‘memes’ by many noted authors, including A. McGrath (who doesn’t think memes exist), M. Poole, M. Midgley, and even J. Fracchia and R. Lewontin (see “The Price of Metaphor”)? Are you putting your trust in atheists like S. Blackmore, D. Dennett and L. Gabora instead of people of faith who actually work in cultural and social sciences? Would you not look at other options, e.g. S. Fuller’s recent neologism ‘theomimesis,’ instead of Dawkins’ selfish memes?

    To suggest that “The language [of memes] is current if not commonplace,” is at best misleading and at worst, so wrong it’s not even wrong. Words that could replace ‘meme’ in your above article include: ‘idea,’ ‘doctrine,’ ‘topic,’ ‘message,’ etc. Your article would lose little meaning if these terms were exchanged, other than the appearing of being ‘scientific’ based on Dawkins’ pseudo-theory.

    You asked for an alternative. Here is one: there is no need to speak of ‘memes’ anymore. It is better said that human ideas and events ‘extend’ from choices, decision, will, etc. Creation is not a ‘meme’, but an example of God’s creative extension.

    “The core [ideas, stories, symbols, meanings, etc.] of the Christian gospel emerge [extend] from the story of Jesus.” They are not reducible to Dawkins-following ‘memes.’ Sorry Sir, but you’ve missed a better boat and are taking the long route if you would stick to your memetic fallacy, in which Creation is lost.

    • Peter Kress says:

      Gregory:

      I appreciate your challenge/caution to my use of the meme concept.

      For better or worse my goal has not been a technical use of the word meme, but a more pragmatic cultural use of the term. In my informal use, the idea of meme is a metaphor (even less structured then analogy) linking/constrasting cultural and biological transmission. I like the focus on transmission, the focus on “units of culture” as long as that is not taken to literally, the idea of evolution of culture.

      I recognize though that my non-technical use at best can be undermined by the technical controversy, particularly if/as the memetics becomes discredited or discarded. At worst, I just look stupid to those in the know (from any perspective) for my seeming naivety in use.

      For now though I will persist a bit. I am unhappy with single terms like ideas, doctrines (so much weight), and other references to subsets of cultural phenomena.

      So, help me continue to look for alternative terms. I will continue to do more formal review of the field (I did read some of the references you posted. Ultimately if I decide the disadvantageous of the terms outweigh the usefulness, then I will jump ship.

      Peter Kress

  5. Tim Beckham says:

    I have a vague notion of the word “meme” as a kind of shorthand, a symbol for cultural wisdom that needs to be conveniently and succinctly transmitted from generation to generation, without the burden of difficult, complex, abstract thought. Is that how you are using the term?

    • Peter Kress says:

      I don’t intend to distance memes from thought, but yes, memes would be chunks (simple or complex) of cultural wisdom.

      • Gregory says:

        Aren’t ‘chunks of cultural wisdom’ commonly called ‘quotations’?

        Top-3 users of ‘memes’: Richard Dawkins (concept manufacturer), Daniel Dennett & Susan Blackmore. Not great friends of religion or Christianity, by a long shot.

        Applying ‘memes’ to Gospel means what? Appearing ‘scientific’ so that…? So that it can take on a ‘non-technical’ usage? Why else would you want to use ‘memes’ other than wanting to quantify ‘cultural units’ and their ‘replication’?

        As for looking for alternative terms, I’d recommend going back 50 years to Marshall McLuhan, who was many times more profound, inspiring and insightful than Dawkins.

        And just so you know that I’m playing fair, you might want to check out Kate Distin’s “The Selfish Meme” (2005) and “Cultural Evolution” (2010). At least in her case, as misguided as I think her (and her husband’s) approach is, you have someone friendly to the Gospel to read instead of its declared enemy who you are linguistically supporting.

        • Tim Beckham says:

          Wait a minute!! I don’t know a lot of details about the origin of the memes concept, but I do know that words evolve in their meanings, and I believe Peter is taking a creative approach here that has substantial merit. There is nothing I have seen in what he has written that ties his concept of meme to any rigid, historical, original definition. Instead, I think he is using the word meme in a way related to the original but in an altered, very creative, potentially very informative way.

          I think the idea of a meme is pretty cool if you use it to describe a cultural symbol – a sort of memory jogger or catalyst – that moves a conversation along between co-participants in the culture. It conveys the building blocks of meaning and functional mechanisms for any particular society.

          Personally, I would like to understand our culture (as well as the Christian religion) as a reasonably systematic array of values, accepted truths, and aspirations that unite us in a common way of thinking. Such an array of principles helps in simplifying an otherwise incomprehensible blizzard of concepts that would otherwise have to be used to describe our society. As far as i can tell, the concept of “meme”, with a little adjustment from the original meaning, is ideal for that purpose.

          “Meme on” Peter! You got my attention!

        • Peter Kress says:

          I do not think of anyone as the enemy of the gospel just like I don’t think of anyone as an enemy of gravity. The gospel is something real that all people experience and engage (resist/accept) anew in each moment of their lives. We need to separate our explanations of gospel from the gospel itself. I think we benefit by being particularly careful listeners to those who critique our explanations. I was intrigued to read Dawkins blog post (old by now) titled “Atheists for Jesus” at http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/20-atheists-for-jesus .

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